Interview with Carsten Kießler, Director of the Institute for Plastics Management
Exclusively for K-MAG
Photo: PantherMedia / gdragan
Preparing small and medium-sized plastics manufacturing enterprises for the challenges of digitization in the vocational training and continuing education of employees and apprentices – that was the objective of the project titled "Kunststoff goes Future" (English: Plastic Rethinks the Future), abbreviated KungFu. The project ran for three years in the Ostwestfalen-Lippe district, a region in the east of North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. It was successfully completed in mid-2020.
In this interview with K-MAG, Carsten Kießler, Director of the Institute for Plastics Management (ikuowl), talks about the successes of KungFu, describes how the demand for vocational training in the plastics industry will change and explains how potential apprentices benefit from the project.
What where some of the Kung Fu project's successes?
Carsten Kießler: We wanted to identify several subarea concepts. This included a demand survey to get a baseline as it pertains to Education 4.0 in businesses. It has given us deeper insights: We have many companies that produce sophisticated, high-tech products but take digitization to mean using Excel. On the other hand, there are businesses that have integrated Industry 4.0 technologies into their operations and embrace networked embedded systems. We did not expect these wide variations and differences – we assumed that we were dealing with an evolution rather than a revolution, and that processes and developments would progress in all companies in a similar vein.
We also set up a new, efficient network that works in tandem with the existing networks of educational institutions and companies. We currently receive many inquiries from companies that were involved in the project last year. They approach us and ask for our help in attracting young talent using apprenticeships. We also developed an online digital maturity assessment tool companies can use as a framework to understand how digitally mature their organization is today, and to help build a roadmap for the future.
Most recently, we have developed teaching modules for the Cyber-Physical Factory of the so-called Lernfabrik Lippe 4.0 (English: learning factory). The so-called glOWLamp is created here as a medium of instruction, allowing young people to learn aspects of digitization and their impact on the economy during its production. It is an excellent tool to teach digitization because it enables us to educate students in general education programs.
EXAM is a partial continuation of the original project. What aspects do you focus on?
Kießler: EXAM is an acronym that stands for "External Ausbildungs-Management" (English: External Education Management). EXAM is always a cross-sectional target for JobStarter projects. That means, no matter what topic a project explores, external education management is always meant to be an integral part. EXAM is especially intended to support companies that do not have a formal human resources or marketing department to attract prospective apprentices. This includes apprentice recruitment at career fairs, contacting schools, job advertising, approaching and screening potential candidates.
We also team up with the so-called Erfahrungsraum.MINT here at the zdi-Zentrum Lippe. The zdi student lab allows us to conduct four-hour workshops during which we highlight career profiles such as process technician for plastics and rubber technology, for example. We illustrate a practical implementation that deep dives into plastics technology. Thanks to us offering companies our participation in this endeavor, we secured multiple apprenticeships.
All these services are an integral part of EXAM. They are apparently in high demand, which means we started a service as part of the project that is ongoing and achieves sustained success.
Photo: PantherMedia / Dmyrto_Z
In view of this rising demand, what is your perspective on the future? Will the trend continue?
Kießler: I am ambivalent about it. After all, the plastics processing sector is not just about packaging, but also involves medical technology, e-mobility, etc. As a material, plastic is indispensable and here to stay. We will see an increasing market share that grows at a steady rate (if circular economy and similar approaches keep gaining traction). This also means the industry will grow. I am very confident with this assessment.
That being said, it is likely that digitization will also change the workplace and job profiles. Automation solutions that go along with Industry 4.0 will mean a reduction of human employment in some areas – but there will also be other applications that will make unique skills and expertise necessary. I am certain that brand-new job profiles will emerge in additive manufacturing, making work in this area more demanding and desirable.
How do apprentices benefit from the project?
Kießler: This is the latest situation: due to the coronavirus pandemic, many young people who are on the cusp of choosing a career had difficulties deciding on a path thanks to ever-increasing apprenticeship options. It resulted in a strong run on full-time vocational school programs, which are subsequently totally overbooked. In my view, this is not because these students all plan to actually pursue this career path. Most likely, their decision was fueled by safety concerns. The district of Lippe has several programs that are 300 percent overbooked.
We plan to approach these young people to talk about a possible career in the metal, electrical or plastics industry and conduct screenings. In the best-case scenario, we target companies that touched base with us and are still looking for apprentices to start on August 1. Apprentices benefit greatly if this project enables us to connect potential applicants and companies that are keen to train the right candidates. After all, it means young people won't waste any time on their way to a more successful career.
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